Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags ,

County set to hit the cannabis ordinance reset button next week

Rollie Atkinson, SOCONEWS

Four days of virtual vision sessions set beginning of three-year EIR and update process

After pulling the plug earlier this year on comprehensive updates to commercial cannabis cultivation ordinances and rules, Sonoma County planners and consultants are launching their self-proclaimed reboot next week with a series of virtual visioning sessions to gather public input on an eventual environmental impact report and proposed ordinance.

The reboot is the first step of a projected timeline of public workshops, draft ordinance work, draft environmental impact report (EIR) completion, planning commission hearings and culminating in the summer of 2024 with Sonoma County Board of Supervisors public hearings.

No one said writing rules to regulate a potential billion-dollar crop of commercial cannabis would be easy. The previous sessions of draft proposals, virtual town hall workshops, planning commission votes and the supervisor’s ultimate call for a “reboot” involved well over a thousand citizen comments and the specter of potential lawsuits.

The public virtual sessions will be held each day from Aug. 9 to Aug. 12, with duplicate sessions held each morning (11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and repeated in the evening (5:30 to 7:30 p.m.) Public comments will be taken by written responses only in a “chat board” format on a Zoom platform.

Read more at https://soconews.org/scn_county/county-set-to-hit-the-cannabis-ordinance-reset-button-next-week/article_d106b014-f652-11eb-be8d-8bf4d6bce2e1.html?

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WaterTags , ,

Thieves are stealing California’s scarce water. Where’s it going? Illegal marijuana farms

Julie Cart, CALMATTERS

In Mendocino County, the thefts from rivers and streams are compromising already depleted Russian River waterways. In one water district there, thefts from hydrants could compromise a limited water supply for fighting fires, which is why they have put locks on hydrants.

One day last spring, water pressure in pipelines suddenly crashed In the Antelope Valley, setting off alarms. Demand had inexplicably spiked, swelling to three and half times normal. Water mains broke open, and storage tanks were drawn down to dangerous levels.

The emergency was so dire in the water-stressed desert area of Hi Vista, between Los Angeles and Mojave, that county health officials considered ordering residents to boil their tap water before drinking it.

“We said, ‘Holy cow, what’s happening?’” said Anish Saraiya, public works deputy for Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger.

It took a while for officials to figure out where all that water was going: Water thieves — likely working for illicit marijuana operations — had pulled water from remote filling stations and tapped into fire hydrants, improperly shutting off valves and triggering a chain reaction that threatened the water supply of nearly 300 homes.

Read more at https://calmatters.org/environment/2021/07/illegal-marijuana-growers-steal-california-water/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags ,

County’s cannabis update may be headed for a detour

Rollie Atkinson, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

Narrow planning commissioners vote calls for a more comprehensive environmental impact study

Plans of the Sonoma County’s Board of Supervisors to streamline the permitting process for commercial cannabis cultivation may be headed for a detour following a close Sonoma County Planning Commission vote held last week that is recommending a “more comprehensive update” in conjunction with a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR.) If approved by the supervisors, the EIR process could take more than a year to complete, several attendees of the April 15 commission session predicted.

New cannabis permits can still be filed under current rules included in the older 2018 ordinance while the supervisors consider their next steps, but there is already a large backlog of pending applications.

Last week’s planning commission action follows two years of county staff work and monitoring by a supervisor’s cannabis ad hoc committee (led by Supervisors James Gore and Lynda Hopkins) seeking to replace lengthy public review and planning commission hearings with a “ministerial” process led by the county’s agricultural commissioner’s office.

That goal was also stymied when the planning commission voted 3-2 to not classify cannabis operations as “agriculture” and “agricultural use” and to vacate earlier recommendations to include a broader General Plan update. Defining cannabis as a crop would better support the streamlined permitting process sought by the ad hoc committee and others.

A public hearing in front of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on the updated ordinance is tentatively scheduled for May 18. The April 15 commission resolution was introduced by commissioner Cam Mauritson and supported by Lawrence Reed and Gina Belforte. It was opposed by chair Greg Carr and member Pam Davis. Reed said he favored the motion to “try to get relief to small growers” while a new EIR process proceeds. Davis said she was “not totally comfortable” with the proposals and favored designating cannabis as an “ag activity.”

Read more at https://www.sonomawest.com/sonoma_west_times_and_news/news/county-s-cannabis-update-may-be-headed-for-a-detour/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , , ,

Sonoma County commission to take up long-delayed rules for commercial cannabis farms

Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Information about the changes Sonoma County planning commissioners will consider for cannabis in the county can be found here.

Sonoma County is reconsidering its rules for cannabis cultivation with the goal of streamlining the approval process for growers and aligning the industry more closely with traditional agriculture.

A central element of the county’s plan is to shift oversight for cannabis farming outside city limits from the planning and building department, known as Permit Sonoma, to the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office — a move that would give cannabis farms a clearer path to approval and eliminate the public appeals that are currently a part of that process.

Supervisors approved the change in oversight about 15 months ago to address the county’s struggle to legalize commercial cannabis cultivation, but the disputed revisions have still not been finalized.

Read more at: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/sonoma-county-commission-to-take-up-long-delayed-rules-for-commercial-canna/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , , ,

Cazadero cannabis grower pleads guilty to felony environmental violations

Zoe Strickland, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

Michael Silva, 37, of Cazadero pled guilty to three felony counts related to environmental violations on a property where he was growing 1,450 cannabis plants, the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office announced Thursday night, Oct. 29.

Silva hadn’t obtained environmental permits for his grow. According to the district attorney’s office, he will perform remediation, 300 hours of community service, obtain the correct permits and satisfy other requirements related to cultivating on the Cazadero property “with the understanding that charges will be dismissed upon completion in a year.”

The cannabis operation was discovered in September 2019 by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). Upon the discovery and following the execution of a warrant, it was determined that Silva was diverting water without permits and engaging in unpermitted construction work without best management practices that could resort in water pollution.

District Attorney Ravitch stated, “The defendant’s activities not only presented unacceptable harm to the environment but also contributed to the illegal cannabis market, a problem for this community and for lawful cultivation.”

“Silva will not be sentenced provided he abides by his agreement with the prosecution,” the statement from the district attorney’s office states. “The agreement also requires Silva to obtain the necessary permits to perform stream restoration over the next year. Should Silva fail to comply with the agreement reached with the prosecution, he faces potential administrative enforcement by sister state agencies, including CDFW and the Water Boards, and is subject to a maximum sentence of 10 years.”

The case was prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Ann Gallagher White, with investigation provided by CDFW and with assistance from the Water Boards.

Source: http://www.sonomawest.com/sonoma_west_times_and_news/news/cazadero-cannabis-grower-pleads-guilty-to-felony-environmental-violations/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , , , , ,

Retiring Sonoma County ag leader: Cannabis can be lifeline for grape growers, dairy farmers

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After eight years at the helm, Tony Linegar retired last week as Sonoma County agricultural commissioner, having overseen a tremendous amount of change in the farming sector that fetched a local record $1 billion of crops in 2018.

The 54-year-old Chico State graduate will be most remembered for his advocacy to treat cannabis and hemp just like any other crop, helping erase weed’s lingering stigma as a “stoner drug.”

He was instrumental in drafting local regulations for cannabis and hemp cultivation. He had vast experience with cannabis — which California legalized for recreational sales in 2018 — since he had previously worked in Mendocino County as its ag commissioner. He earlier worked in Shasta County, where he started in 1995 as an ag inspector.

Linegar took action here when vineyard owners violated local rules and had been vocal about upholding environmental and pest and disease protections in his talks with the politically influential wine sector. Although wine grapes represent a dominant 70% of the overall crop value of the county’s ag sector, he sees an industry in transition due to competitive pressures and evolving consumer tastes.

He thinks cannabis can help those small grape growers who are struggling to survive. Area dairy farmers, who have dealt with declining prices in the organic milk market, also will start growing or leasing their land for hemp and cannabis cultivation, he said.

Linegar sees the county’s agricultural sector becoming more balanced after a decadeslong dominance by the wine grape business.

“I do see more diversity coming into agriculture almost by necessity,” said Linegar, who is moving to Hawaii. “Whenever you have so many eggs in one basket, you are really vulnerable not only to market fluctuations but also pests and diseases. If you get a devastating pest come in, that can wreak havoc on a monoculture.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/10697266-181/retiring-sonoma-county-ag-leader

Posted on Categories Land UseTags , ,

Op-Ed: Sonoma County’s misguided planning for cannabis

Ray Krauss, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

On Tuesday, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will decide whether to address the severe compatibility problems with cannabis cultivation in rural neighborhoods. Last year, the supervisors committed to fixing these problems but ultimately refused to do much.

The supervisors need to acknowledge the fundamental issue. The reason there are so many “problem sites” is that they turned the planning process upside down. Even if all current problem sites were denied permits, there will be more applications for cannabis cultivation at different problem sites.

The proper way to proceed is to identify sites that are suitable, based on a set of planning criteria, rather than identifying problem sites after a permit is requested. That is how all other planning is done. In preparing general plans and zoning maps, planners identify those areas where specified uses are environmentally suitable and compatible with surrounding uses. Thus, we end up identifying commercial zones, industrial zones, multi-family residential zones (apartments and condos) and residential zones. Those areas not so identified don’t allow any of these uses.

The county should return to normal zoning. It should evaluate environmental and land use information and identify areas where cannabis grows are suitable, based on such criteria as:

— Availability of water, power, sewer and storm water drainage.

— Groundwater basins where water use won’t adversely affect the environment.

— Adequate and safe road access.

— Avoiding incompatible residential sites, schools, parks, trails and recreation sites.

— Accessibility to law enforcement.

— Avoiding risks of wildfire, landslides, flooding and other natural hazards.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/9493059-181/close-to-home-sonoma-countys

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Geyserville property owner fined for diverting, polluting streams to grow marijuana

Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A Geyserville property owner who launched a medical cannabis farm has agreed to pay $245,000 in fines and penalties for what Sonoma County prosecutors said was improper water diversion, unpermitted grading and site work that harmed streams in the Russian River watershed.

Property owner Darryl Crawford, a Napa-based investor with experience building wine cellars, said most of the issues on the sprawling 330-acre Geysers Road property stemmed from old roads, water systems and other features built decades ago by a prior owner.

But state Fish and Wildlife officials said that unauthorized work that Crawford had done on the property, including attempts to stop sediment from flowing into streams, created additional problems. Prosecutors said also that the cultivation site was graded without a permit.

Prosecutors sued Crawford and his companies Black Mountain Developers and Cold Creek Group in an effort to get them to comply with environmental regulations and acquire the needed permits to improve the site’s roads and water systems, Deputy District Attorney Ann Gallagher White said.

“The penalties were high because the conduct was egregious and lasted for a long time,” Gallagher White said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9460580-181/geyserville-property-owner-fined-for

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & EnergyTags , ,

As home pot growers left the region last year, Sonoma Clean Power lost $10 million in revenue

Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

They’re called “superusers” within the power industry, those electricity customers using as much as 200 times the amount of energy in a month than a typical household.

Some of them have big estates, horse stables or electric cars. A small number are older mobile home parks operating on one utility meter. Most are likely growing marijuana indoors, local power agency officials said.

Last year, these “superuser” customers in Sonoma and Mendocino counties with monthly electric bills as high as $20,000 started to disappear.

About 300 homes using the most power in the region closed their accounts or dramatically decreased energy consumption in May and June of 2018, according to Sonoma Clean Power, the area’s green power agency. Although small in number, the loss of these major customers contributed to an unexpected $10 million drop in revenue and expenses last year, agency CEO Geof Syphers said.

After scrambling to figure out why these customers were disappearing, power agency officials determined they corresponded with a marked shift in where marijuana is and isn’t being grown in the region and state, he said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9453610-181/as-home-pot-growers-left

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , ,

The wrong way to plan for cannabis cultivation

Ray Krauss and Craig S. Harrison, THE KENWOOD PRESS

On April 16, the Board of Supervisors will decide whether to direct Permit Sonoma to address the severe compatibility problems with cannabis cultivation in rural neighborhoods. Last year the supervisors publicly committed to amending the cannabis ordinance to fix these problems, but ultimately failed to do much.

The supervisors need to acknowledge the fundamental problem. The primary reason there are so many “problem sites” with cannabis cultivation is that they turned the planning process upside down. Even if all problem sites today were denied permits, there will be more applications for new problem sites in the future.

The proper way to proceed is to identify sites that are suitable based on a set of planning criteria, not identify sites where there may be problems. That is how all other planning is done. For example, in preparing the General Plan and Zoning Maps, planners identify those areas where specified uses are environmentally suitable and compatible with surrounding uses. Thus, we end up with identified commercial zones, industrial zones, multi-residential zones (apartments and condos) and residential zones. Those areas not so identified do not allow any of these uses.

Similarly, the county should study its environmental and land use information and identify locations where cannabis grows are suitable based on criteria such as:

• Areas where public water and other necessary public services are available including power, sewer, storm water drainage, etc.

• If not on public water, areas located in a groundwater basin where water use will not impact environmental resources.

• Areas served by adequate and safe road access.

• Areas remote from incompatible residential sites.

• Areas remote from public and private schools.

• Areas remote from public and private parks, children’s camps, trails and other recreation sites.

• Areas easily secured and accessible to law enforcement.

• Areas free of extreme or high danger of wildfire.

• Areas free of landslides, flooding and other natural hazards.

• Areas free of rare and endangered or sensitive plants.

• Areas free of historic and/or archaeological resources.

• Areas free of important wildlife habitat and corridors.

• Areas free of other identified incompatibilities.

Once areas meeting these criteria are identified and mapped, planners would normally do an assessment of how much suitable land can be projected as reasonably necessary to meet current and future demand (20 years for a General Plan).

The proposed suitable areas are then presented to the public in hearings, and after considering all public comment, the planners select those areas where permits for grows will be considered.

Individual proposals are then evaluated to make sure that they indeed meet all of the necessary criteria. They go through the Conditional Use Permit and California Environmental Quality Act processes where the public has an opportunity to provide comment and participate in public hearings.

This is how planning has always been done. The county’s failure to undertake the appropriate planning process is why we have problems with grows in unsuitable areas. The county has never previously done planning for any other land use by asking for the public to identify unsuitable or problem sites. They always do an analysis and pick areas that are most likely to be suitable. The county’s approach is like allowing anyone to locate a junkyard anywhere unless enough neighbors show up after the fact and complain.

These controversies could have been avoided if the county had undertaken the usual, normal planning process that is applied to all other land uses. The proposed Phase II compatibility planning process should follow the normal and appropriate planning process described above.

The supervisors should never have assigned the planning effort to Economic Development instead of Permit Sonoma. Economic Development does not have the experience or expertise to manage the land use planning for cannabis grows.

The county got into its public controversy dilemma because it falsely assumed that cannabis grows are “just agriculture.” That’s like saying pig farms and dairies are “just agriculture.”

Most of the remote places proposed for commercial cannabis cultivation would otherwise only accommodate what is called “extensive agriculture.” Perhaps a few cattle at best. The sites in the Mark West Watershed would not be suitable for vineyards or any other intensive agriculture. Most wouldn’t even support grazing.

Growers use imported soil and heated containers in commercial structures with artificial lighting, none of which is normal agriculture.

Once the county assumed cannabis production is the equivalent of a vegetable garden (or a potato patch, as one county official opined) and ignored the accompanying huge water use, fire hazards, multiple employees, traffic generation, pesticide use, noxious odors, crime, and a plethora of other impacts that of necessity accompany cannabis production, the planning process went awry.

To address adequately the compatibility problems with rural neighborhoods, the supervisors need to acknowledge the impacts and quit trying to fit the round cannabis peg in the square “just agriculture” hole.

Ray Krauss is a retired environmental planner who lives in the Mark West Watershed.

Craig S. Harrison is a retired lawyer who lives in Bennett Valley.

Source: http://www.kenwoodpress.com/pub/a/10428?full=1